Archive for the ‘Life and Ministry’ Category

“I have plans for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

This is one of those posts that I have been sitting on for awhile.  God spoke this to me for the first time when I walked away from the career I had spent 25 years developing.  I of course wanted to know what his plan was and how it was going to play out.  What was this new vision that He was giving me?  The answer came foggily clear, “That I which I have placed in front of you.”  ??? ….and what does that mean, “That which I have placed in front of you.”  Ummm…I have 30, 60, 90 day goals and a 1, 3, 5 year plan, can you work with me?  “That which I have placed in front of you.”  Then He threw me a bone…here is what I want you to do for the next 30 days….and then I will let you know for the next 30 days.  Now this is not to say that this is God’s intended lifestyle for all (in fact I feel that it is most certainly not) but for this A type planner it was what I needed to move me to His economy.  Eleven years later it is the normal.  I have an expectation that God is going to clearly place my next task in front of me.

I believe that this is core of the Hupomone lifestyle and it is all too often lost in a world that values great sweeping vision and “out of the box” thinking.  Don’t get me wrong both of those things are wonderful but to enter the promised land sometimes you have to march around Jericho a few times and then shout and make a fool of yourself, just because God put it in front of you.  When the Israelite people first approached the promised land they were all ready for the milk and honey but they were not ready for that which God had placed in front of them.  The giants are always going to be there.  God will provide the sling and the stones but we need to pick them up and use them.  We need to be prepared to do that which God places in front of us.

Psalm 40:8 says “I delight to do your will, O my God, And Your law is written within my heart.”  David understood the importance of doing that which God placed in front of him and he knew that the way to be ready to do it was to be as intimate with God as he could be.  Our planning in this relationship is not the what, it is the Who.  David valued his intimacy with God.  This is why Paul holds David up as a wonderful example of  doing what God place in front of him.

After removing Saul, He made David their king.  God testified concerning him:  ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22

Sometimes “That which God has placed in front of me” is a don’t instead of a do.  David’s friend urged him to kill Saul in the Cave when God had delivered Saul helpless before him.  David’s intimacy with God and his engagement with the Holy Spirit as God’s prophet allowed him to choose not the obvious solution but the one that God had placed in front of him.

“This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave.  Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.” Samuel 24:10

When we lose sight of what God has immediately before us, even as we tell ourselves that we are serving “the vision” that He has given us we become ineffective. Saul lost the immediacy of God’s will in the “big picture” of being king of Israel and in doing so he lost the very thing he pursued.  Samuel empowered by God responded to Saul’s loss of focus

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”  1 Samuel 15:22

David had his moments too.  Next to Goliath, he is probably most known for Bathsheba.  This is a consequence of losing focus on the things that God has placed in front you.  It is the separation of religion from doing “that which God has placed in front of me”.  We may not lose a kingdom over it but we lose our effectiveness for the Kingdom and we impede the transforming process of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  How we respond to these moments is as important as the event itself.  Saul became sullen and withdrawn from God.  David laid himself out before God in repentance and submission even as the consequence crashed around him. (2 Samuel 12, Psalm 51).  It is in the maturing of our faith that we will be able to recognize the difference between the tasks that God has placed in front of us and the allure of the world.  The temptation to attribute the allure of worldly values to the task that God has for us is very real.  Our own thoughts and desires can blur the lines.  Saul fell victim to this deception as did David and so many others.

However we are not just responsible for ourselves.  We need to follow Paul’s example of prayer and fellowship.  He had never met the Colossians and yet his love for them and desire that they grow in their relationship with God is clear.  May we have the same focus in our love for others.  It is that God given love that may more than any other thing enable us to recognize and do that thing which God has put before us.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”  Colossians 1:9-10

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SD

We didn’t call it “Social Distancing”.  It wasn’t a darling phrase for the media, social or otherwise.  However the reality is that this “new” phenomenon is not so new.  It is rooted in another idea that is not so new “Social Anxiety”.  I have watched this bad boy literally destroy lives.  People who refused to leave the safety of home for years, or even the safety of a single room.  I am guessing that some with Social Anxiety are feeling quite justified right now.  The truth is that the only difference between Social Distancing and Social Anxiety are a few grains of truth.  Both are practiced in different intensities by different people for different reasons. They both separate us from the fellowship that is a hallmark of our faith.

Allana and I battled with those grains of truth, along with battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  Social Distancing is not new to us.  In fact in the big scheme of things our current situation is easy going.  Rewind to 2013, Allana is undergoing chemotherapy, innocuously called Hyper CVAD…except for maybe the Hyper part. The grains of truth are rooted in the fact that this protocol all but destroys a person’s immune system.  This was followed by a Bone Marrow Transplant.  Radiation and even more devastating Chemotherapy did in fact destroy Allana’s immune system so it could be replaced.  Social Distancing became a way of life almost literally overnight.  January 3rd we are in the hospital for Allana’s fever and abdominal pain.  January 4th we are in a special ward with its own ventilation system and limited access.  The cancer had already started the damage that the Chemotherapy would finish.  Suddenly, someone, anyone could quite unintentionally kill Allana with a single bacteria or a misplaced virus.  Our introduction to Social Distancing had begun.  It would separate us from our church, ministry, friends and most difficult, our children and family.  A single blessing was our newborn Nisa.  She was only 19 days old when Allana was diagnosed.  I made two decisions. First, I would not be separated from Allana throughout this experience and Second, Nisa would be with her mother for as long as she possibly could.

Allana had little choice but to practice Social Distancing.  The cancer and chemo left her tired and in pain much of the time.  Carefully orchestrated moments with her children and carefully vetted friends and family were in some cases more than she could handle.  Even as I walked the hallways of the hospital, purchasing coffee or food or just walking with the baby while Allana slept, I was acutely aware of the threat that all those around me posed.  Laying in bed at night I would inventory how I felt…was my throat sore…was that a cough…was I getting sick?  Would I have to leave her?  Compulsive hand washing, masks and minimal movement became the routine.  I used hand sanitizer in and out of the room (conveniently placed on the wall just outside the door).

Things became more serious when she did contract an infection.  The uncontrollable fever and then the incoherent imaginings were the warning bells that signaled that something was wrong.  At one point through the night I thought we were going to lose her.  Being in the Blood Cancer ward of the Cleveland Clinic has its advantages and they were able to stabilize her. Fortunately other than the stories I tell, Allana has little memory of this episode and what she does remember consists mainly of the hallucinations and dreams that she experienced.  Social Distancing became social isolation.

As Allana recovered and the new Bone Marrow took hold, we began the long process of finding the new normal.  The new normal still included the fact that someone could quite unintentionally end Allana’s life.  Shortly after being released from the Clinic but  needing to remain in Cleveland, we tried to reestablish a norm, Sunday morning Church.  We picked a campus of a large AG church in Cleveland not far from where we were staying.  The pastor would be glad to know that his people were incredibly welcoming.  Unfortunately it was terribly terrifying.  I was unable to establish a perimeter (six feet or otherwise) around Allana.  One especially well meaning woman rushed up and gave her a big hug.  Social Distancing became Social Anxiety just that quickly.  While there were grains of truth in our Social Distancing there was a fundamental change in us.  That is the Social Anxiety part.  It honestly forever changed who we are and how we operate.  Fortunately God is good and there has been much recovery.  This recovery was a matter of years not days or weeks. It followed Allana’s physical recovery to some degree but the discomfort and avoidance of social situations have not evaporated as quickly as the grains of truth have faded in meaning.

All this is to say that Covid-19 and the introduction of a culture of Social Distancing has forever changed all of us.  The normal  expectations of health and safety are assaulted by every news article and political speech.  When the rules subside, the fear will still be there…especially for those who became desperately ill or had a loved one become desperately ill.  There are grains of truth in the distancing and in the fear.  However as those grains fade in importance we will as a people and most particularly as the people of God need to recognize the change, the impact on who we are and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading out of the wilderness.  We can be the pillar of fire and smoke that will lead others out of their wilderness.  It will be a time for the Church to step up and truly be the body of Christ led by the Holy Spirit and full of Healing.

“but for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.”     Malachi 4:2

 

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Blessings

Sam

Saturday

 We celebrate Good Friday.  We celebrate Easter.  What about Saturday?

Sandwiched between the suffering of the greatest sacrifice ever made and the glory of the most magnificent triumph ever won, past present or future, is What? I am going to call it Hupomone Day! because it is the Saturday’s of our life that grow true perseverance.

How often do we find ourselves on Saturday.  That blank day between the suffering and triumph.  At least as we watch the events unfolding we can focus on the horror, the pain.  We can anticipate the miraculous escape, the triumphant turning of the tide as God magnificently brings the victory.  Then it doesn’t happen the way we want or expect.  The night falls,  a restless night, perhaps without sleep, certainly with disturbed dreams.  Then what about Saturday, what do we do?  The dawn rises, but all that we can see is Friday’s darkness.  The birds are singing, but all we can hear are the screams and jeers of the crowd; the hammering of the nails; the moans of his mother; the pounding of our own heart.

What about Saturday.  What do we do?  What should we do?  Some will run.  Some will hide.  Some will lose faith and return to the life they had known before they felt the Master’s touch.  Some will struggle and doubt, but:

struggle and doubt + faith = Hupomone

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

Some of us have longer Saturdays than others.  Take Thomas.  I often hear people make fun of doubting Thomas.  I can only imagine that his fellow disciples gave him some ribbing but here is the deal:  Thomas Stayed!  He made it through a Saturday that was longer and more intense than any of the others.  I can only believe this made his Sunday morning all the more amazing.  Thomas grew through his Saturday.  He walked away with an understanding of Hebrews 11:1 straight from the lips of his Savior:  Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29.

If Friday is Good Friday and Sunday is Easter Sunday; Saturday is Hupomone Saturday.  Saturday is when we remember His Word.  Saturday is when we remember His touch.  On Saturday the fellowship of our brother’s and sister’s in Christ becomes paramount.  On Saturday we scream out to God.  On Saturday we worship, we cry, we hurt, we heal…in-spite of ourselves.  On Saturday we grow and mature as on no other day.  Perhaps that is why Saturday is in God’s plan for us.  I have experienced a few Saturday’s in my life.  Some I am still experiencing.  While the Sunday mornings are great!  It is the Saturday’s that draw me close to God and close to God’s people.

It is in the midst of Saturday the I make strides towards Philippians 2 , learning humility, allowing God to work in me. It is on Saturday that God makes those subtle changes in me that draw my spirit, soul and body closer to having His attitude and His values and to truly having His love.

It is on Saturday that we practice Hebrews 11:1 like no other day.  Do we trust the promise?  Are we certain of our hope? It is on Saturday that we say in the midst of it all with Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

Unfortunately I think that it is also on Saturday that all to many lose faith, not being able to hold on to the promise.  It is on Saturday that as brother’s and sister’s in Christ we fail each other as on no other day.  Perhaps this is because we do not realize that everyday is someone’s Saturday.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 

Are you in the midst of Saturday?  Be certain Sunday morning is coming, and when it does the most miraculous thing, the most miraculous change will not be in the situation that you are experiencing, it will be in YOU!

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By Allana Guidry

I wrote this a couple years ago about when I found out about my leukemia fight. It encouraged my heart once again – I pray it encourages you too. He’s such a personal God.

January 4th, 2013 does not hold a Facebook post. From Facebook’s perspective it was a day of silence. Yet, when the word ‘Leukemia’ was spoken, my day was anything but silent. Within a few minutes of being told my diagnoses, I was wheeled away for a CT scan and a bone marrow biopsy. I cried through both. All I could think about was my family. How would we tell our four children (Emily , Robert , Sami, and Chayla). And Nisa…. what about my precious 19 day old miracle baby? I cried through my biopsy. Man, it hurt like heck, but it was my heart that hurt the most. I couldn’t stop crying. When the biopsy was finished the doctor left the room and let me be, but then I felt a hand rub my back and when I turned around I saw a nurse there. She was crying too. I told her I was sorry for losing it, but I was dreading telling my family. She said, “Honey, don’t be sorry, you have every right to cry, just remember, no one here will ever cry alone.” Yes this made me sob.
I finally gathered myself enough to get wheeled to my bed that waited for me down the hallway, but when the nurse opened the door, to my great surprise, there was my OB, tears running down her face and she was apologizing for not getting here in time to be with me for my tests. My OB is the one who sent me to the hospital when things just didn’t look right. And here she was. Crying at the door. She knelt down beside me and hugged me and prayed over me. Seriously, what kind of doctor does this?

As I was pushed closer to my room, I saw my husband talking on the phone, repeating again what at that moment seemed to be the darkest word in our language, “Allana has leukemia,” standing near him in the door way, was Nate Elarton. The look in his eyes is one I will never forget. It was one of sadness, deep love, and the tattletale signs that he was screaming on the inside wishing this moment was anything but true. He isn’t just our pastor, he is our friend.
Then as I came into the room, there I saw one of my best friends, Lisa K Shaull, holding my precious Nisa Faith, who was only 19 days old. Some how though I know Lisa was torn apart inside, on the outside, though I saw concern, I mostly saw a place of peace. When I was placed in my bed, I noticed another dear friend, one who is truly like a brother to me, Tim Rabara. Out of the three, he looked the most devastated, but I remembered he smiled and joked around that all the attention was on me, AGAIN. Trust me, in the months to come, Tim’s humor, though most might misunderstand, helped me A LOT!

As the day wore on, my room became silent, and Sam and I began to pray. God gave me the vision:

When I opened my eyes, I saw a beautiful music box, you know the one that has a beautiful ballerina spinning on top. He told me to come closer. As I did, I saw that it wasn’t a ballerina but a little girl dancing with her daddy. I smiled at the beauty they held, and yet a little bit of a hurt because I had never experienced such a thing. He told me to come closer. As I did, I saw that the little girl’s feet were on top of her dad’s. Tears formed in my eyes at the precious scene they made. He told me to come closer. As I did, I became that girl. His arms were gentle and yet strongly wrapped around me. My feet upon His. He said to me, “My precious daughter, I adore you. I cherish you. You are my prized possession. This road is going to spin us around and around. Keep your feet on mine; put your arms around me. No matter how fast we spin, I will never let go.”

My Heavenly Father kept His promise. He was with me every single step. I don’t look at this day, now 5 years ago as the most devastating thing that has happened to me or our family, oh sure, it was life changing! One of the most difficult journeys yet. The difference is that my faith in the One who held me never wavered for a second. I didn’t doubt His love for me. I didn’t doubt His faithfulness to be with me.

If you find yourself in a life spinning event, please allow me to encourage you… God loves you, more than you can comprehend. It doesn’t matter how much you doubt Him. It doesn’t matter how much you have pushed Him away, He still adores you. He finds you truly precious. He is calling to you, asking you to trust Him. This doesn’t mean your dance will stop or end, but it does mean that you can trust Him to never leave you or forsake you. He is faithful! He isn’t just faithful because I’m now looking at my cancer fight from a 5 year span, God is faithful because He is faithful. It’s that plain and simple. If He had chosen to take me home to be with Him, He would still remain faithful and He would be there with my family and help them through. Let God fill you with peace. Trust = Peace. I know. I lived it. He is so so good!

(a special thanks to Dani Herrera for taking the picture from my head onto paper)

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This is a poem that I wrote with the help of my lovely wife Allana for the 2019 Christmas Pageant at Collingwood Presbyterian Church.  The youth narrated the poem and Scripture while the children acted it out for the congregation.

A Stable Christmas
Sam Guidry

In those days, Caesar Augustus made a law. It required that a list be made of everyone in the whole Roman world. It was the first time a list was made of the people while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be listed. Luke 2:1-3

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the stable
Every animal was sleeping, at least all that were able;
The straw was all stocked and the water filled with care,
Knowing that soon many visitors would be there;

The dog and the cat lay snoring in newly made beds,
But the donkey and the monkey had too many thoughts in their heads;
Would all be ready for a busy busy day?
There were just so very many guests headed their way,

The donkey counted oats while the monkey fluffed the straw,
But he woke up the dog by stepping on a paw.
He let out a yowl and jumped to his feet.
Complaining so loudly of being woken from his sleep.

The cat simply smiled with such big yawn,
A yowling dog was a nice touch for the dawn. Her Cat sense told her this was a very special day.
But little did she know the very special guests that were on the way.

So Joseph went also. He went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea. That is where Bethlehem, the town of David, was. Joseph went there because he belonged to the family line of David. He went there with Mary to be listed. Mary was engaged to him. She was expecting a baby. Luke 2:4-5

One by one all the animals awoke.
But it was late in the morning before anyone spoke.
The donkey exclaimed it is only just noon.
But the Inn is filling quickly and will be full soon.

As all gathered round for an afternoon snack
The news traveled quickly from the front to the back
The Inn was filled up, not a room to be had
For many travelers this news would be bad.

It was then that the stable got an unusual pair
Who knew that a man and a pregnant woman would come there.
They found an open place as the animals gathered round.
It was clear that soon a place for a baby would need to be found.

While Joseph and Mary were there, the time came for the child to be born. She gave birth to her first baby. It was a boy. She wrapped him in large strips of cloth. Then she placed him in a manger. That’s because there was no guest room where they could stay.  Luke 2:6-7

The cat knew that she had been exactly right.
This child was special who had been born on this night.
Just then as if they had been given a cue.
Shepherds arrived the baby to view

The lamb they brought with them told such a story
It was of a host of angels all singing glory.
A surprising spectacle lighting up the night
It had given both man and beast quite a fright.

There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby. It was night, and they were looking after their sheep. An angel of the Lord appeared to them. And the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. It is for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. Here is how you will know I am telling you the truth.

You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a large group of angels from heaven also appeared. They were praising God. They said, “May glory be given to God in the highest heaven! And may peace be given to those he is pleased with on earth!” The angels left and went into heaven. Then the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem. Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:8-15
At the end of the story they all let out a sigh.
They peered into the manger where the little babe lie
Together thanked God for this gift of His light!
And wished Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth … Out of his fullness we have all received grace John 1:14,16

All Scriptures from NIRV

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I never want to lose sight of the circumstances of Nisa’s birth, nor of the days and years that would follow.  She is a constant reminder to me of God’s faithfulness to us no matter what circumstances life might bring.  This was originally posted on Christmas Eve of 2012.  I did not know at this point that I was in the middle of what I would later call The Nineteen Days (this is the link to the first post about this time.  I will probably be reposting this series).  Allana would begin to feel sick this night and the fevers would start on Christmas.  Little did we know how much of a miracle and salvation Nisa would be for us in the days ahead.

Nisa Faith was born on 12-16-2012 at 9:40 pm.  She was 7 lbs. 3 oz. and 20.5 in. long.  Yet those simple statistics do not in any way define the miracle of faith that she is to this family.  A physical living expression of the journey that God has taken this family on over the past decade.  I have been literally overwhelmed by her presence in our lives and not just by the usual intensity of life with a new baby.  I am going to re-post my blog from July 31st because today I stand with the realization of that post in my arms:

                  (Nisa- Miracle)

Faith

Guidry

We have prayed for this day for 9 years.  We have ached for the losses and doubted our faith.  We refused to give up even when we were labeled as a “Chronic Miscarriage” case.  When the entire world (and even God himself from a purely worldly standpoint) seemed to be saying emphatically NO, the Holy Spirit whispered in our ears to leave it in the Father’s hands.  So we did.  Don’t get me wrong we cried, we wailed, we begged over and over again.  We wanted at times to throw in the towel and act out of our own understanding.  We still do not completely understand, but understand this:  We have a mighty heavenly Father who cares for us in ways that I cannot begin to fathom.  He loves us in a way that is so far beyond my understanding that I only touch the edges of what AGAPE really means!

Several weeks ago while in prayer God gave me the name Nisa Faith.  Indeed she is a miracle of faith, not the simple faith of a single prayer or even the cry for healing but the faith of a 9 year journey.  She represents to us the faith of Abraham as he led his entire family to Canaan.  She represents the faith of Joseph as he waited in slavery, in prison for God to act.  She is even now, yet in the womb that miracle, an incredible act of God.

The difficult part to grasp is that my statement about our Father’s love for us is not just true because Nisa is healthy and strong.  It is an eternal truth that is expressed in both the tragic and the joyful.  He does not love us more now than he did on the very days that we miscarried our other seven precious babies.  The reality is that our journey to the fulfillment of the call that He had placed on our lives led us directly through David’s “Valley of the Shadow of Death”.  While we might prefer a detour around the Valley, God does not promise that.  He does promise that he will be with us, standing by us with His rod and staff and even more importantly for New Testament believers dwelling in us.  Many times it is not until after we are through the Valley that we are able to look back and see that God wielded His rod and staff on our behalf as we walked that  difficult road.

Even more than she represents the miracle of life to us, she is the miracle of faith itself.  Perhaps a better way to say it is that she is an expression of miraculous faith.  Faith inspired by the ongoing presence of God in our lives.  It is the faith that kept Abraham going on his 400 mile journey.  It is the faith that kept him in relationship with God even when he arrived only to face famine.  It is the faith that saw the birth of Isaac and the substitution of a ram for his only child on the mountain before God.  It is not a faith of the perfect life or of perfect people. It is a faith that traverses pitfalls and carries us through our own mistakes; faith that originates not with us but in the very heart of God and comes to us as a gift from the hands of our heavenly Father.  It is Nisa Faith.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me to lied down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.  He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.  Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

PSALM 23

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Meeting

 

Some recent events brought this post to mind so here it is again.

In my 35 years of working experience I have come to recognize a phenomenon I call The Meeting Culture. Interestingly enough it crosses through the borders of the various regions in which I have been employed, across industries and even informal groups.  It became more salient in the later part of my career in the hospitality industry because I was engaged in trouble shooting challenged operations.  As I refocused my life on ministry and spiritual growth I was somewhat surprised to find the same culture at play within the fellowship of ministry, but then people are people no matter where we are.  Interestingly enough the heart of the culture has its genesis in both settings.

The early church, particularly the early Jewish church experienced a new phenomenon.  The practice of Judaism had long been tolerated by the Romans.  Zealots and radicals were put down but synagogues and temple worship were given a pass by the Latin conquerors.  However this new practice, these followers of Jesus were not content with their own kind and taught intolerance of other religions. Jesus was not just a god among gods, he was the God and the only one worthy of worship by all, not just the Jewish people.  Pack that up with the rumors spread by opponents and Christianity became anathema to 1st century rulers.  Gathering became dangerous.  It came to the point that the writer of Hebrews had to encourage and even mandate that the early believers meet together for fellowship and encouragement in the faith (Hebrews 1:25).  However there is a danger.  One that Paul clearly recognized when he wrote to the Corinthians and condemned their time together as not focused on their faith, “…because you come together not for the better but for the worse.”  He extends this warning in a positive sense when in Ephesians 4 he states:  “And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”  Ephesians 4:11-12  When the meetings stop resulting in “the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” – and this is not your local church body – then it ceases to serve or follow the Gospel.

This is what I found as I started engaging businesses in crisis.  The deeper the crisis, the more meetings they had scheduled.  They would have manager meetings, department meetings, position meetings, strategy meetings, every kind of meeting that you can imagine.  They would plan these meetings, record these meetings and unfortunately never adequately execute anything that came out of these meetings.  In most cases the company had fully executable procedures and policies already in place.  So that raises the question, “What is the purpose, what is the drive for all those meetings?”  It became pretty obvious that even in distressed operations people need to feel successful.  This is what they find in their endless meetings…success.  They are able to have the most successful meetings.  They come out of the meetings feeling like they have made real progress.  They feel like they are fulfilling their purpose and calling.  The focus of success ceases to be the execution of purpose but becomes the discussion and planning of purpose.  However life and business are hard.  So when push comes to shove it is easier to have another meeting than to actually hold oneself accountable for the execution necessary for success.  This was fortunate for me as it kept me employed for a couple of decades.

So how does all this apply to our faith.  Let me be clear the gathering of the Saints is mandated by Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The problem is when the meetings instead of focusing our faith become the focus of our faith.  When the center of our faith life is in a building instead of in our hearts; that building becomes a cage for the Gospel instead of a launching pad.  The impetus for this is the same as the meeting focused businesses that I have engaged.  We believe that we can find success in our meetings (services, gathering, experiences….).  We can be holy, inspired and powerful inside those four walls.  We are rarely challenged and often supported inside those four walls (unless we find ourselves challenging the culture inside those four walls!).  We are safe in the practice of our faith inside those four walls.  After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD Christianity transitioned from a fringe group of Jesus fanatics to the primary religion of Europe.  It was during this period that a corollary to the Meeting Culture developed.  It is the idea that there are special “professional” children of God who really should carry the weight of the Gospel ( re-read Ephesians 4:11-12).  They get to lead the meetings where we can be so successful.  The newest class of these professional Christians is the worship leader.  Again worship is wonderful, but if the top of one’s life in Christ exists only in the midst of well engineered worship sets, we go back to the problem of the meeting culture in business.  The Gospel is contained, not executed.  The personal satisfaction and alleviation of personal responsibility that this culture provided made it grow.  It was easy to move from a fellowship of equals celebrating and sharing the gospel of redemption both together and in their communities to being a culture of meetings and rituals performed by “professional” Christians and from there to the place where the meeting itself became not only a celebration of salvation but the mode of salvation.

There was a time in my life when I measured the health of my faith by the number of meetings I attended.  This week I went to two church services, Wednesday night prayer, a small group, served at youth group and did the Friday morning prayer card session.  I am rocking for the Lord.  Now none of those things is bad.  Not even the collection is bad.  The fact that I used my attendance as a Spiritual scorecard is bad.  Honestly at that time in my life my immersion in the church was probably necessary to my spiritual formation but God had to rip the scorecard out of my hand.  I am particularly stubborn so my grip on that card was pretty tight.  It took pretty intense situations in my life to move me from a meeting scorecard to a biblical scorecard.  Now I know that you are ready for me to lay out all the check boxes on that biblical scorecard.  Sorry, no such luck.  It does  not work that way.  There are two metrics for the scorecard, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Jesus tells the disciples in Luke 12 that when they are brought to judgement for their faith, “The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Paul uses the Holy Spirit as a scorecard for his words to the Romans in chapter 9, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,…” and in chapter 14 he sets the Holy Spirit as the scorecard for the very kingdom of God, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  

David says in Psalm 119:11, “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” and Jesus uses His Word as the metric for a Hupomone life built on the rock in Matthew 7 as compared to the foolish life of the man who did not act on his Word and built his house on the sand.  This is what we do when we center our lives in the house instead of on the foundation.

Build your faith on the Rock.  Fellowship together with purpose (the Gospel) not as a purpose and you will see the hand of God move in and around you like never before.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37

 

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arete

This idea of excellence has been dogging me for some time now.  When I first began to explore the idea of biblical excellence the Greek word arete was the first to come into view.  Such a short word for such a big concept.  While arete can refer to general excellence it carries with it a strong moral component.  It is only used five times in the New Testament, once by Paul in Philippians and the rest by Peter in his two letters.

Peter designates arete  to be an attribute of God.

seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3

Peter then calls the people of God to pursue this very excellence that we find as a aspect of God’s character.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 1 Peter 1:5

While arete is a Greek word that denotes moral excellence, I believe that as Peter uses it arete is found only in the expression of God’s divine power (through the Holy Spirit) in his people as they diligently through faith function in that divine power.  Let’s look at this passage all together.

3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 1 Peter 1:3-7

Paul also uses arete in his final charge to the Philippians.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul here gives a break down of Peter’s attribute of God.  It is pure, lovely, of good repute and praise worthy.  This weekend Levi Elarton (our pastor’s youngest son) spoke on loving people well as a quality of Jesus and by extension a quality that should be a basic part of any Christian’s life.  As a part of that he stated that sinners liked to be around Jesus.  Jesus managed to be attractive to sinners without compromising his arete in any way.  In fact I am going to step out and say that His divine moral excellence (and I would suggest that there is no other kind of true moral excellence) was the very thing that drew people to Him.  You can see this moral excellence in operation in the call of Levi the tax collector (Levi’s text for this Sunday), in His encounter with the woman at the well, in the many times the religious rulers of the day attempted to trip Him up.  You can see this moral excellence in operation as he was beaten, abused and hung on a cross.  You can see this moral excellence being made available to you and me through the power of the Holy Spirit when Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to His place at the right hand of the Father and when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples in Jerusalem on Pentecost.

Arete is not a philosophical or theological concept, it is a practice of life that requires diligence and participation in the very nature of God.  It requires what Peter Scazzero in his series of books calls “loving union”.  It requires both the mindset spoken of by Paul and the action that Peter calls for. Arete is the fulfillment of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is the natural result of the Hupomone lifestyle.

 

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My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings.

Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.

For they are life to those who find them And health to all their body.

Proverbs 4:20-22

Today there is a plethora of voices in our society all claiming to have the answer for personal health. Over the years I have listened to a variety of those voices (and in most cases ignored their advice) whether it was in school, over the internet, on TV or in a magazine. Being relatively healthy and naturally thin for so many years (often in spite of unhealthy life choices) I really did not have a focus on health, physically, mentally or spiritually. Health just seemed to me to be what was.

It was really not until 2013 and Allana’s battle with Leukemia that the importance of health came solidly in view. How clear the importance of something becomes when it is suddenly gone. As God walked with me the path of hupomone living, the idea of healthy living solidified. That path extends beyond 2013.  God was patient if not necessarily gentle as he brought me out of the desolation that I had made of my life by 2001.  As is often the case he inspired changes in lifestyle long before I understood the direction and truth of hupomone living.  I stopped using alcohol to backstop the weak areas in my life.  I quit smoking.  Allana brought stability to my relational life and I found myself engaged with mature Christian men and women.  God placed me in positions of ministry and opened opportunities for sharing the Gospel message.  The normal stressors of life (and some not so normal) began to be opportunities to grow and mature instead of being occasions of descent into selfish behaviors.

The first step to healthy living was to hear and listen to the voice of God in my life, the small still voice of God encouraging me to return to the path of health that he had for me. It is true that some have giant, radical life changes when they encounter God.  While these changes can be valid works of the Holy Spirit, we fool ourselves if we think they eliminate the need for the daily work that is involved in the healthy living of the hupomone lifestyle.  I think that in many cases the noise and clamor of such transformations actually makes settling into daily listening to that small still voice so much more difficult.  This can result in a stalled relationship and stagnant personal health as we only identify the work of the Holy Spirit with radical change. So in the absence of the “burning bush” experience we miss the growth that God has for us.

Hupomone health takes on the characteristics of God as our relationship with Him grows.  It is a health that transcends human circumstances and yet expresses itself concretely in our lives.  Hupomone health proceeds directly from the wisdom of the Father.

“Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth.”
Jeremiah 33:6

Hupomone health is a function of supernatural healing.  Jeremiah links health and healing to peace and truth.  These are the gifts that Jesus brings to his people and form the foundation of healthy living for ever Christian.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” John 14:6

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27

Accepting peace and truth from God is not as easy as it sounds.  It is a spiritual journey, one with many steps, falters and restarts.  It rests in what Peter Scazzero calls “Loving Union” (Emotionally Healthy Leadership).

“Loving Union is an act of surrender– giving God complete access” (EHL, p. 117)

It is only in that act of total surrender that we can truly accept God’s truth and peace that is so foreign to everything that this world has to offer.  When we come to this place it is a profound move towards the hupomone lifestyle and the health that comes with it.

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Paul made much of his weakness and of the fact that the Holy Spirit manifests itself greatly in our weaknesses making us strong. This is very much true. When God calls you into that uncomfortable place of service that you never expected to be in, He will empower you to be more excellent than you could ever imagine.

“And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

When we use this and other verses like it to focus on our weakness, we miss the entire point. It is not about my weakness. It is about the power of Christ that dwells in me. The Holy Spirit is not out there creating empowerment in the consequences of our incompetent behavior. He is dwelling in us crying out for us to push ourselves to a level of excellence that can only come from God, Redemptive Excellence.

Redemptive Excellence should be the hallmark of godly, Holy Spirit led men and women. They should stand out in every way.

“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” Acts 4:13

It was a matter of Redemptive Excellence that caused the Jewish leaders to recognize that these men had been with Jesus. No they were not formally educated but they had applied themselves to excellence during their time with Jesus and the Holy Spirit came up underneath that effort and made them men that would turn the world upside down. (Acts 17:6 KJV) The Holy Spirit did not come behind them cleaning up their messes or excusing their lack of effort. He empowered them to be amazing.

Redemptive Excellence is an expression of God’s call on someone’s life. The Old Testament is full of men and women called by the Holy Spirit to Redemptive Excellence. In each case whether it was Gideon, Deborah, Samuel, David, Elisha, Isaiah and the list goes one, they followed the call of God and the Holy Spirit empowered them to Redemptive Excellence that brought to them a standard of performance that they would not have otherwise attained. It was this empowerment coupled with effort and focus that brought world changing results.

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